Monday, July 9, 2018

All the News that's Fit to Complain About

Both sides do it. Complain about the news, that is. On the Conservative side, they've been so deeply enmeshed in lies, propaganda and conspiracy theories for so long that they can't begin to figure out how to address actual facts, quotes and events. On the Liberal side, well, we hate pretty much everything. You don't see nearly as much whining about 'Fake News' from liberals - Fox News is state TV, the propaganda outlet for the Republican party, and other outlets like Breitbart traffic in such bizarre nonsense that to call it fake news would be to lend it a cachet of credibility far beyond its own intrinsic worth. Liberals complain about coverage and content choices. At this point one might reach the conclusion that Twitter exists primarily as a medium for complaining about the media.

But here's the thing. The 'news' all these politically active people on both sides of the ideological divide are complaining about? It's not. News, that is. In many cases it is a costly, extravagantly produced television show designed not to inform, but to sell products. Television shows, just as a reminder, are profitable because they are a delivery medium for advertisers. As a result, the television news suffers from time constraints - it is fundamentally impossible for them to discuss ANY issue at even the minimal depth to actually inform their viewers. It doesn't matter if they're talking about health care policy, SCOTUS, North Korea or immigration, they leave out even the most salient details. They leave them out because the producers don't believe people want to know them, and because, with only 40 minutes of content per hour, they simply don't have time to deliver a complete picture of the issue, let alone the events of the day.

Then there's the other delivery mechanism, an anachronism from previous centuries we like to call a newspaper. This is where the complaints get, well, weird. People complain about what's being covered, and they complain about what's NOT being covered. They complain about who's writing the stories, the topics of the stories, the amount of coverage the story gets (too little/too much) and they complain about the overarching editorial choices the newspaper's management staff makes. Person X has a paid job writing for the NY Times? That's shameful and ridiculous. Person Y DOESN'T have a job writing for the NY Times? They are silencing our voices. Person Z wrote something I disagree with - he must be fired now.

Frankly, I don't understand any of this. Sure, the right-wing echo chamber is an embarrassment of false and incomplete narratives, primarily because it exists to support a right-wing political contingent that long ago ran out of anything of value to offer, and is now utterly dependent on false and incomplete narratives to sell its toxic set of policies to a public that is every year worse off for supporting them. But we're supposed to be the smart ones, literate and deeply concerned with actual facts, whether they support our desired policy positions or not.

Read what you want - don't read what you choose. But complaining about what is said or written in these ridiculous entities we call television and newspapers is pointless. They will never get it right, because they are so fatally flawed that it is impossible for them to do so. They will take shortcuts, offer anecdotes, quote sources and frame a narrative that is at best so incomplete as to be hollow, and at worst just farcically incorrect. If you actually care about public policy, read the source material, seek out the authoritative sources, read the longform deepdive white papers and research studies. If you're concerned about legislation, read the bill(s). If you're concerned about regulation, read the rules. If you care about international affairs, see what the politicians, journalists and pundits in other nations are saying.

Here's an example. When Supreme Court Justice Kennedy resigned, the immediate implication was all around abortion, and Roe v Wade. But Roe was decided almost fifty years ago - did you go back and read the original decision, just to be clear on what might be at stake? Have you read it, even now? What about Casey v Planned Parenthood? When Trump rants about NATO funding, did you do a little research on how NATO is funded, just to see what the hell he's talking about? Whining about what CNN isn't covering or what some NYT OpEd writer said in a clickbait weekend column isn't informing you or anyone else - once again, because it is impossible to be informed by watching TV/Cable news and reading newspapers online.

Do yourself and everyone else a favor - find out what's happening, don't complain about how certain flawed media outlets are telling the story. Because they no longer have value as sources of information.

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